Australian Scientists Pioneer New Way to Hear Black Holes Colliding Across the Universe

Australian scientists have developed a new methodology they say will allow astrophysicists to hear the clatter of black holes colliding with one another right across space and time.

The breakthrough by Melbourne researchers promises to shed new light on the early universe.

“We are not just seeing the black holes in our immediate neighbourhood, we are seeing black holes from the very early ages of the universe when stars were just being made,” Monash University’s Dr Eric Thrane told 7.30.

Every three minutes, somewhere in the universe, two black holes are colliding.

Because the gravity of these behemoths is so immense, when they come together they shake the very fabric of space and time, sending gravitational ripples out through the cosmos.

A black hole and its accretion disc.

Physicists first detected this gravitational wave radiation in 2016, using the LIGO instrument in the United States, and a Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery.

The team of Melbourne-based astrophysicists has now taken this breakthrough further, developing new techniques they say will let them listen to the general background clatter of black holes merging all over the cosmos.

Being able to listen to the sound of so many smaller black holes further and further away from Earth will let scientists explore deeper into our universe’s history.

7.30 asked three astrophysicists to harmonise their interpretation of the sound.

‘A taste of the universe at its most extreme’

Astrophysicist Silvia Biscoveanu, from MIT in the United States, is in Australia working with the Melbourne researchers.

“Gravitational waves aren’t sound waves but we can represent them as sounds, so we can listen to what black holes smashing together sounds like,” she told 7.30.

The conventional wisdom was that the LIGO detector wouldn’t be sensitive enough to hear these mergers, but the Australian researchers believe harnessing the power of Swinburne University’s massive new supercomputer will allow them to listen in.

Their new technique involves sifting through the enormous amounts of data the detectors have collected, teasing out the background noise.

“It gives us a taste of the universe at its most extreme,” said Matthew Bailes, the director of the OzGrav Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery.

“It’s when you’ve sort of set the laws of physics to ‘stun’, and to a physicist that is an exciting place to probe.”

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